Fox News and Dominion Voting Systems resolved the case, the Delaware judge overseeing the $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit said on Tuesday.
Fox agreed to pay $787.5 million to settle the lawsuit, Dominion attorney Justin Nelson said at a press conference outside the courthouse. The decision came after jurors had been selected but before opening arguments began.
The settlement averts at the last minute a trial in what had become a landmark defamation case. The judge had already ruled that that Fox News had published false statements about Dominion in the weeks and months after the 2020 election by repeatedly broadcasting bogus claims that the voting machine company played a role in nonexistent election fraud.
The trial would have focused on whether Fox News published those claims with actual malice and what Dominion’s damages were. In court filings, Dominion laid out evidence showing repeated instances of Fox News personnel casting doubt on the veracity of the claims about Dominion in private even as the right-wing news network continued to broadcast those claims, many of which were wild and unhinged on their face.
Dominion alleged that Fox knowingly or recklessly ran false statements saying that it played a role in the supposed conspiracy. Fox News defended itself before trial by arguing that it was merely airing various views in an ongoing controversy. The judge had already ruled against Fox before trial, saying it could not argue newsworthiness to the jury.
Records obtained and released by Dominion showed how Fox, having called Arizona early in the 2020 election for Biden, panicked at dropping market share among conservative viewers. The solution for Fox, Dominion said, was to air false claims about the stolen election to maintain the channel’s connection with its viewership.
Fox’s chances were made worse by an admission from tycoon Rupert Murdoch that the network’s hosts during this period had not simply aired allegations issued by Trump and his surrogates, but “endorsed.” This included Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, among others.
Judge Eric Davis ruled last month that Fox had aired false claims about Dominion. The furthest that Fox went in its statement so far was to acknowledge “the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false.”
The settlement will allow Fox to move on and continue its business model. The network reported annual revenue of $13.97 billion in 2022; there’s no indication that the settlement, while a victory for Dominion, will cause deep or serious changes at the network.
Fox faces a separate $2.7 billion defamation claim from Smartmatic, another voting company which received a torrent of conspiratorial abuse from Trump acolytes and the network after the 2020 election.
The trial would have featured testimony — and cross examination — of some of the network’s biggest figures, including Rupert Murdoch himself.
Tucker Carlson, the far-right circusmaster who sent a text revealed in the Dominion lawsuit about his loathing for Trump, would also have appeared to address the claims that he made in support of the former President. Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, bombastically aggressive hosts who acknowledged privately that Trump lost the election fair and square, would also have appeared.
All of this would have taken place under a condition whose absence allows Fox to exist: a legally binding oath to tell the truth. For liberals and others who regard Fox as a polluting agent in American political discourse, it offered up the opportunity for catharsis: a real-time, public acknowledgement of the network’s lies.
Neither side immediately released any other terms of the settlement beyond the $787.5 million payment to Dominion. It remains unclear whether Fox will have to acknowledge the false claims on air or issue an apology.
Fox issued a statement addressing the settlement, which briefly admits that it aired falsehoods:
“We are pleased to have reached a settlement of our dispute with Dominion Voting Systems. We acknowledge the Court’s rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX’s continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards. We are hopeful that our decision to resolve this dispute with Dominion amicably, instead of the acrimony of a divisive trial, allows the country to move forward from these issues.”